From seeing an orthodontist early to knowing what to do in a dental emergency, here’s what you can do as a parent to help keep your kids’ teeth in tip-top shape, according to kids’ dentists in Singapore.
See an orthodontist early
You don’t have to wait for your child to need braces to book their first visit to the orthodontist. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that a child has their first check-up with an orthodontist no later than the age of seven. Even if they don’t need immediate treatment, an early visit to the orthodontist means that any problems can be identified early on, allowing for management at the appropriate time.
“With children and early treatment, timing is everything,” says DR TASNEEM RANGWALA of Smilefocus. “An orthodontist is trained in the growth and development of the teeth and face, which means they know if early intervention is necessary and understand the perfect time to start ‘interceptive’ treatment.”
Interceptive orthodontics involves minimal treatment at an early stage – even if the child still has a combination of baby and adult teeth – in order to prevent more complicated treatment down the road.
What’s more, Dr Rangwala says that early orthodontic treatment can maximise a child’s growth potential to correct certain dental or skeletal issues, and create a better foundation for permanent teeth to erupt into.
Some of the most common reasons for early or interceptive orthodontic treatment include:
- underbites – where the lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper jaw;
- overjets – where the top teeth protrude out too much;
- cross-bites – where a misalignment causes the upper teeth to fit inside of the lower teeth;
- teeth crowding;
- excessive spacing;
- extra or missing teeth; and
- habits such as thumb or finger sucking, or prolonged pacifier use. “Of course, all recommendations are customised to the needs of your child. Your orthodontist will assess whether treatment is required at that time or if it’s better to wait until the child is older,” says Dr Rangwala.
Words of wisdom
If you’ve got a teen complaining of tooth pain, don’t be too quick to write it off as an excuse to miss class. Wisdom teeth – the third set of molars in the jaw – start to erupt between the ages of 17 and 20. And, while they’re not always bothersome, the majority become impacted, meaning they’re trapped under the gums due to insufficient space to erupt. This can cause food trapping and eventual tooth decay, and can even lead to infection, pain and swelling. If left untreated, an impacted tooth can also cause damage to the surrounding teeth and gums, explains DR SHAWN GOH who is a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery – meaning, he treats disorders of the mouth, teeth, jaws and facial structures.
Dr Goh recommends taking a teen to be assessed by an experienced dentist any time after they turn 17 to check for impacted teeth. A dental x-ray called an orthopantomogram (OPG) will show any impacted teeth and the directions they are growing in.
If impacted teeth are found, Dr Goh says it’s advisable to remove them before they start causing any problems. This can be done surgically as an outpatient procedure. Of course, no parent wants to put their kid through an elective surgery. So, while it certainly might not be easy to agree to it, there are key benefits behind surgical extraction at a younger age.
“Removal of lower wisdom teeth at any age always carries with it certain risks. However, between the ages of 17 and 24, it’s easier to remove wisdom teeth, as the jawbone is not as dense compared to patients of older age groups,” explains Dr Goh. “Also, the roots of the wisdom teeth may not have been fully formed yet. This results in a much lower risk compared to removing wisdom teeth during adulthood.”
A typical recovery period, he says, is about one week. “Patients experience some pain and swelling in the cheek region, and will usually have some limited mouth opening abilities. A soft diet is usually recommended for the first three to four days, and patients are advised to avoid rigorous activities.”
What’s more, Dr Goh says that waiting to remove impacted wisdom teeth only when problems arise can cause greater discomfort and even lead to a slower recovery – another reason why he recommends removal at a younger age, even if wisdom teeth are asymptomatic.
Tips from a kids’ dentist: Know what to do in a dental emergency
Dental accidents can happen anytime, anywhere. Knowing how to properly handle dental emergencies can go a long way in both keeping your child calm and in saving your child’s permanent teeth. Here, DR PIN of Expat Dental shares six common dental emergencies and what to do for each.
#1 Knocked-out tooth
First, find the tooth and pick it up by the crown – do not touch the roots. If the tooth is dirty, gently rinse it with water, milk or saline. Then, if it’s a permanent tooth, try to put it back into the socket facing the correct way. Bite down on a piece of cloth to hold it in place. But, do not reinsert a baby tooth! If you can’t insert the tooth back into the socket, just keep it moist in cold milk or place it in a container with saliva. Then, visit a kids’ dentist immediately!
#2 Chipped or fractured tooth
Treatment for a chipped or broken tooth really depends on the size and severity of the fracture. A slightly chipped tooth is usually not an emergency, although it’s still a good idea to visit the dentist at your earliest convenience. For a large chip or fracture, especially if it is painful, bleeding or if the tooth is loose, visit a dentist for kids immediately. And, if you’re able to locate it, bring along the tooth fragment.
#3 Intruded tooth
A tooth is intruded when it’s driven up into its socket, causing a fracture of the alveolar bone (the structure under your gums that holds the roots of your teeth in place). This type of injury usually results from impact or a fall. If your child’s tooth becomes intruded, rinse his or her mouth with water, then control the bleeding around the gums. Visit the dentist immediately to assess the severity of the injury. For minor intrusions of young permanent teeth, the dentist may opt to let the tooth re-erupt naturally. In other cases, repositioning and intervention may be necessary.
#4 Injuries to lips, cheeks or tongue
Any injury to your child’s lips, cheeks or tongue should be cleaned, or the area should be rinsed with water. You can control the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean gauze or cloth. You can also apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce the swelling.
Additionally, you’ll want to assess the severity of the injury. Do visit your kids’ dentist if you think your child may require stitches or treatment to help with the bleeding and swelling.
#5 Dental abscess
A dental abscess is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection. It usually occurs because of an untreated cavity or an injury. Symptoms include redness and swelling of the gums, and severe pain. If untreated, a dental abscess can lead to fever and facial swelling. Visit the dentist immediately for treatment of the tooth or gum infection. Antibiotics are usually required to control this type of infection.
A toothache is sharp or throbbing pain in or around a tooth that can be caused by a number of different dental problems including tooth decay or cavities, inflammation or infection in the root of the tooth or in the gums, or a dental abscess. Sometimes, the pain can even be caused by an accumulation of food trapped between the teeth. Have your child rinse, then examine their mouth to check for anything between the teeth. Floss to remove any caught food or debris.
If the tooth still hurts, call your dental clinic for an appointment. Give your child some over-the-counter pain medication to relieve severe pain until you’re able to see your kids’ dentist for further investigation.